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Ideas for southern/south eastern Poland

I'm in the VERY early stages of planning a 12 day trip for this summer that starts in Krakow and ends in Prague. Looking for ideas of what to see in southern Poland that are good day trips from Krakow or easily seen as we migrate towards Prague. We're in our late 40s, very experienced European travelers, fit, love cute towns, scenery, mountains, hiking, great architecture and historical churches; we're not museum people and we tend to travel at a quick, efficient pace. The biggies like Krakow, Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mine are obvious, but what else?

Posted by
6060 posts
  • Zakopane
  • Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
  • Rzeszow
  • Tarnów
  • Częstochowa
Posted by
118 posts

I'll add Pszczyna, which is a cute little town and has a "castle" (more like a large manor house) that is very interesting to tour. It will take about 2.5-3 hours on the train, with a transfer.

Posted by
1780 posts

Hello, I'm not sure about your specific route, but between Krakow and Prague there are quite a few interesting/scenic towns and villages, and a variety of routes one can take, which makes for a lot of diversity. Some interesting sights and other destinations between the two cites, that I found interesting:

Kłodzko - a sort of “Little Prague”, definitely the architecture of the town reflected that. By far the most interesting site in the town is the old Prussian Fortress that dominates the center of the town. It was apparently one of the largest star fortifications in the Prussian Empire and is in remarkably well preserved.

Polanica - old German spa town located in the Sudeten mountain range. Really relaxing place with restorative mineral waters, I had the best pierogi I've ever had in Poland at Villa Polanica.

Ustroń - larger spa town, quite popular with local Poles. Nestled in the mountains where Slovakia, Czechia, and Poland meet. The President of Poland has his Presidential Castle nearby, that he uses for winter/summer retreats, it's possible to visit the castle when he's not in.

Wisła - mountain resort town, the smaller sister to Ustroń. They have great hikes here that run all the way to Slovakia and Czechia.

Pszczyna - old baroque town, former capital of the Duchy of Pless. It's dominated by a large Baroque style chateau, which used to be owned by the von Pless family. The interior is very well preserved and many of the original furnishings are all still there. It is also historically important as this is the place where Kaiser Wilhelm II had his HQ for the eastern front during WW1.

Štramberk - quaint medieval hill town, with a small castle at the top, very relaxing. located in Moravia, close to the Polish border. Close by is a cave with Neanderthal remains.

Zamek Książ - a large, originally medieval castle of the Duchy of Pless, and overlooks the Pełcznica river gorge. During WW2 the Germans built underground tunnels here. In these tunnels is apparently where the train filled with Nazi gold is hidden. This tunnel network was part of Project Riese, which was a secret Nazi project consisting of several underground megastructures (for yet unknown reasons).

Stołowe Mountains National Park - a primeval forest deep in the Sudeten Mountain Range, dotted with some very unique rock formations (they actually filmed one of the Narnia movies there). There are some pretty good hiking spots here too.

Protestant Churches of Peace - UNESCO world heritage sites located in Jawor and Świdnica, the biggest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe, built after the 30 Years War.

Hope these give a few ideas :)

Posted by
16560 posts

On the Czech side of the border you have Olomouc and the much larger but relatively non-touristy Brno.

Posted by
126 posts

If one likes Polish pottery and your timing is right, the pottery festival at Boleslawiec is a worthwhile two-night visit. It is a small city that had been a gritty industrial town under Communism. Following the fall of the Communist government, much of the heavy industry closed down and Boleslawiec began to emphasize its traditional pottery – including holding an annual pottery festival.

The festival draws people from around the world. During the festival many of the pottery factories set up booths in the town square, and they also welcome visitors to their factory stores. The once-grimy grey buildings lining the square are painted in various pastel colors. A fun 45-minute parade is held during the festival in which each factory has a float/performance; in the parade one can see Communist-era Polish Fiats, classic motorcycles, and more.

One needs to reserve early. We stayed in the Blue Beetroot.

(Our trip report from 2017 for Wroclaw, Boleslawiec, and Krakow is on the forum: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/poland-wroclaw-boleslawiec-krakow-aug-2017-part-1-of-2 )

Posted by
4843 posts

Marcus, I haven't been there, but I read about it on this forum (I think). The town of Zalipie, about 60 km east of Kraków, where all the houses are painted in flowers. Do a google on it and see what you think. I hope to visit the Bieszcady region in the very SE tip of Poland someday. This was home to many of the wooden orthodox churches, the region of the Lemko people, and now a national park. Lots of history there, going back to the Tatars and Cossacks.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Marcus,

Just got home from a trip to Poland, including Cracow. It was my second time to the city-- it has changed a lot since I was first there in 2012. Full disclosure: I am generally not into museums, I like to walk a lot, I also love cute towns, excellent scenery, great architecture, and cool churches. I traveled to Poland for religious reasons and to get in touch with my roots.

Poland right now is in the process of updating its rail lines and will eventually have a direct, fast train from Cracow to Prague... just isn't really there yet. Do note that all of Poland's trains, other than the Gdansk-Warsaw-Krakow line, are still... slow. Not milk-run slow, but slow. So consider that when you are looking at "day trips." You aren't going to be German fast-training it anywhere. I might suggest you fly between Cracow and Prague... save yourself the headache on the train.

The thing is, many things in Cracow (Nova Huta, A/B, Salt Mine, etc) are time intensive because they require tram/train rides or tours out to see them, so they turn into half day or day trips even though they are "in Cracow." Then of course there are the "true" day trips that involve 2-4 hour train rides-- those always create the question of "how far are you willing to travel on a train in one day" issue. Again, keep in mind the rails aren't that fast, so get online and look up just how long those suggestions previous posters have given will take you...

You mentioned historical churches. Cracow has dozens. But it can get tiring to go in and out of them all if you are just going in and out to "see" them on a non-religious basis. So I would pick a few and go into those, and I am happy to give you recommendations as to the ones that I would see, but I'd want to know what kinds of things you like to see in churches. Also, many of them are being renovated right now (St. Mary's, the Dominican Church), so they are harder to "see."
That said, if you are religious and want to see churches for a religious purpose, I can give you recommendations there as well.

If you are religiously-focused, I would give you the following recommendations:
- Shrine of the Divine Mercy
-JP2 Center (you have to go even though it's sort of disappointing, because it's there)
The RS book is WRONG on directions to and from and between these due to construction right now. I can give you further info if you want to go.
- Kalvaria and Wadowice: Take a tour, do not go via train. Train line is down, it's a 3hr bus, not worth it.
-Day trip to Jasna Gora (Czestochowa) to see Our Lady of Czestochowa - this is a 1.5 hr train ride each way. Can walk from the train station, not that far (20-30 minutes). Their website is difficult to navigate and not exactly air tight on mass times, so you have to just play it a bit by ear. Info place there has things in English to assist. Don't go here other than for this purpose. Nothing to see in Czestochowa otherwise.

Cracow is rich in WW2 history. Some WW2 sights:
-Zablocie area (fragment of the ghetto wall, Ghetto Heroes Square, Schindler's Factory)
-Ausch/Birk - this is a day.

Zakopane may be an option depending on your endurance for mass transit. It is not on the way to Prague though. Then again "on the way to Prague" can be a lot of things.

I am of course happy to give you more suggestions inside of Cracow and around, but it'd help to narrow down your focus a bit.